Christmas is an exciting time of year for everyone - typically there’s lots of people visiting, present opening, and lots of excitement. For our dogs at home however, Christmas is an odd time of year, and it’s up to us, as their carers, to ensure that they feel comfortable, safe, supported, and relaxed.

The festive period usually means lots of decorations, electrical wires, and novel items which may scare or excite our dogs. If your dog becomes worried or over excited at the tree and decorations being put up, it’s important to try to relax them before they cause themselves an injury or stress. Provide your dog with a suitable chew or a tasty filled Kong, so that they can relax away from the action. Once everything is in place, allow your dog to explore for themselves, but don’t force them to say hello to the reindeer statue or the large sparkly tree in the corner! If they’re excited, or at the age where chewing is a high priority, it may be a case of keeping decorations completely out of reach or protecting the tree with barriers.

We usually have lots of visitors around the Christmas period, and whilst a lot of dogs enjoy all the extra attention and play time, for some dogs, this can be very overwhelming, particularly if they are worried by new people or don’t usually have new people in their home. Children in particular can be quite scary for dogs if your dog isn’t used to being around them. Children are understandably even more excitable at Christmas, so if you’re not sure how your dog will be around them, it’s best to take appropriate precautions. If your dog is showing signs of being distressed by the arrival of new people (for example barking whenever people move round the room, panting or pacing a lot, or hiding behind furniture), it is most likely less stressful for them to be kept separate from the surprise of new people. Another alternative is to provide them with a ‘safe space’, such as a crate covered over with blankets. Some dogs, particularly those who don’t usually have a crate, may not use this, but will find their own ‘hidey holes’, such as under a coffee table, or behind the sofa. Whilst these areas may not be ideal for us, they have clearly found a place they feel safe, so encourage the use of this by providing blankets, toys, and chews in these areas for them to retreat to if they do feel overwhelmed by new people coming into their house, and ask your visitors to respect this and leave the dog alone in its chosen quiet space.

Christmas usually means that owners are suddenly around for a lot of the day, bustling around doing chores and enjoying the festivities. This usually means that our dogs’ predictable daily walks are either at different times, or are longer than usual perhaps, and they can enjoy our company for longer. Whilst this may be a huge positive in the short term, some dogs then struggle with a return to their usual routine, so as far as possible, keep your dog’s routine as close to their usual one as you can.

There’s always extra food on offer for people, and quite often the temptation is to feed our dogs leftovers or ‘special treats’ at Christmas time. Be careful about leaving food out on reachable surfaces- coffee tables and the like are prime targets for a chocolate pinching Labrador! Chocolate, cooked bones, Christmas pudding, mince pies, and some mould on cheeses, are all dangerous to dogs and extra food could cause tummy upsets for your dog even if they are ‘safe’. Christmas plants such as Poinsettia, Holly and Mistletoe berries, and even our Christmas trees, can all cause upset stomachs and vomiting. If you are very concerned about your dog, please seek veterinary advice.

For those dogs who are more likely to be anxious or stressed at this time, Adaptil products and Dorwest supplements can help relax your dog and provide them with a little extra support. These products are available in some of our centres and Adaptil is available at most vets. Feel free to pop in to one of our centres and have a chat with the Centre Trainers for more tips and advice! Enjoy your Christmas and keep your doggy family members safe and happy!

- Kate Golding, North Lincolnshire Centre Trainer